Aug 24, 2013
After guiding Baylor football to heights unmatched in program history, three straight bowl games and back-to-back bowl wins in 2011 and 2012, Bears head coach Art Briles continues to push expectations for his 2013 squad.
"We've got to carry that momentum on, we finished really strong last year," Briles said. "We've got to carry it on in to the start of 2013, to come out of the gates fast."
Briles describes his 2013 team's strengths as tradition, expectations, belief and attitude. "We're an established football program. When people talk about one of the top 4 or 5 programs in the Big 12, they mention us - and rightfully so. That's something that we have to continually work on getting better at."
The 2012 Holiday Bowl champions return 15 starters and 47 lettermen from a squad that won its final four games, including three against top 25-ranked teams.
"We've still got a lot of growth, a lot of area in front of us to improve on," Briles said. "Not just as a football program, but honestly as a support group too; as a rabid fan base that creates a ticket that needs to be scalped. That's where we need to get to."
The Bears' schedule boasts a very attractive seven-game home slate highlighted by hosting Texas, Oklahoma and a first-ever visit by new league member West Virginia. The 2013 season also marks the final season playing at Floyd Casey Stadium. This season will mark the 64th and final at "The Case," which opened in 1950. The Bears open their new $260 million on-campus home, beautiful riverfront Baylor Stadium, in the fall of 2014.
"We're excited about having a great finishing year at Floyd Casey, that's a big deal for us," Briles said. "We want to go out in style, and we've been really good there the last three years, record-wise (16-3). We need to carry that tradition on and finish up, and get ready to open up a new era in `14."
"The offense is the strength of our football team," Briles said. "It's been one of the more dominant offenses in America."
But the 2013 offense will have a new trigger-man under center, one of five new starters set to jump in and continue powering Briles' juggernaut. Gone is All-American quarterback Nick Florence, who set a school record with 4,309 passing yards in 2012, along with sensational receiver Terrance Williams, just the sixth unanimous All-American in school history.
Briles concedes his team had few "big question marks" going into spring ball, but did list the quarterback position as one of those. Suffice it to say that junior Bryce Petty erased any doubts in his ability to run Baylor's powerful offense with strong play throughout the spring.
And, as Briles points out, Petty doesn't have to shoulder the weight of the team. "We'll be better defensively," Briles said, "and we can run the football."
Baylor's powerful, record-setting offense is frequently mistaken for a pass-heavy attack, when in reality its success is founded on a punishing running game. The Bears, who finished second nationally in total offense in each of the last two seasons (572.2 ypg in 2012, 587.1 ypg in 2011), have ranked 14th (231.7 ypg in 2012) and 10th (235.6 in 2011) nationally in rushing yards the past two years.
That's not to say Baylor doesn't pass the ball extremely effectively, evidenced by a passing attack that has ranked fourth nationally in both 2012 (340.5 ypg) and 2011 (351.5 ypg).
Back offensively are six starters, led by returning All-American guard Cyril Richardson and rushing phenom and All-American candidate Lache Seastrunk, as well as play-caller, offensive coordinator Philip Montgomery.
The Bears have boasted 1,000-yard rushers in each of the last three seasons - Jay Finley in 2010 (1,218), Terrance Ganaway in 2011 (school-record 1,547) and Seastrunk in 2012 (1,012) - and paving the way for this success has been the heart and soul of Baylor's offense, the OFFENSIVE LINE. The Baylor O-line, which has produced five NFL Draft picks over the last five seasons, is led by running game coordinator Randy Clements.
The bell cow for the line is Richardson, who spurned a chance to go pro following his junior season and will anchor Baylor's unit from the left guard position. Briles said of the powerful, athletic, Richardson, who was named the 2012 Big 12 Offensive Lineman of the Year in addition to earning All-America honors: "I think he'll be the best offensive lineman in America, no doubt."
Also back on the line are second-year starting tackles Spencer Drango and Troy Baker. Drango is a no-nonsense sophomore coming off a 2012 Freshman All-America campaign. Baker, a junior and 2012 honorable mention All-Big 12 selection, is recovering from a spring knee injury.
With Baker rehabbing, the right tackle spot will likely be manned to start the season by fifth-year senior Kelvin Palmer, an athletic veteran with 31 career games played. Other options at tackle will be sophomore Pat Colbert and redshirt freshman Tre'Von Armstead.
Stepping into the right guard spot is likely sophomore Desmine Hilliard, a big youngster and two-sport participant (throws discus for BU track and field squad). Reserves available at guard will be giant sophomore LaQuan McGowan (6-7, 375) and redshirt freshman Jason Osei, a 26-year-old native of England.
The deepest position on Baylor's roster is undoubtedly the offensive BACKFIELD, where Petty will be joined by one of the nation's top rushing duos in senior Glasco Martin (889 yards, 15 TDs in 2012) and junior Seastrunk (1,012 yards, seven TDs). In a Thunder-and-Lightning cliché, the punishing Martin provides the thunder, and the electric Seastrunk brings the lightning. The Martin-Seastrunk duo is one of just six returning nationally (the only duo in the Big 12) to have each gained 850-plus rushing yards in 2012.
Seastrunk, a former prep All-American and transfer from Oregon, saw his first collegiate action in 2012 and turned heads nationally by totaling 831 yards and six TDs over the final six games. The 2012 All-Big 12 and Big 12 Offensive Newcomer of the Year honoree, who is back as a consensus preseason All-American and the 2013 preseason Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year, is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
The underrated Martin, who doesn't get much media love outside of Central Texas, tied for the Big 12 lead in TDs among running backs with 15 in 2012. He's a powerful, downhill runner with a nose for the endzone. The veteran leader has rushed for 1,178 career yards and ranked eighth in the league with 889 yards last year.
"The way Lache and Glasco feed off of each other, and the two different styles of running they bring really help us," Montgomery said.
The multi-tooled Petty steps into the starting role at quarterback in 2013, after serving as the backup to Robert Griffin III and Florence the past two seasons. The junior has thrown just 14 passes in 11 career games played entering 2013, but has been through three seasons and four spring drills in the Baylor program since signing in 2009 and enrolling in January 2010.
Petty's level of play will be key to Baylor's overall success in 2013.
"This offense has to be able to spread the field and throw the ball, so he's got to be productive, and he can do it," Briles said of Petty. "He's vital to factoring how scary we can be as an offensive football team. He got a lot more comfortable, a lot better in what he needed to do production-wise at the end of spring practice."
Petty threw for 326 yards and two TDs on 22-of-32 passes in the spring game.
"Bryce needs to produce and be a good decision-maker," Montgomery added, "and to allow his teammates to make plays for him."
Backing up Petty behind center is redshirt freshman Seth Russell, from Garland (Texas) High School. The tall, slender, athlete with a great release earned coach's praise for his play in the spring.
The RECEIVING CORPS has a void with the departures of unanimous All-American Williams (Dallas Cowboys draft pick) and All-Big 12 honoree Lanear Sampson, but five of the top seven 2012 receivers return this fall. The deep and talented group will be led by two veteran inside receivers, explosive senior All-American Tevin Reese and sure-handed junior Levi Norwood, and several youngsters itching to get the ball thrown their way and to prove their mettle.
Reese is a two-time All-Big 12 honoree who put up huge numbers of 957 yards and nine TDs on 53 catches as a junior in 2012. He is one of the most prolific receivers in school history (ranks eighth in catches, 149, and fifth in yards, 2,235, on career charts entering 2013), capable of big-play explosiveness (14 of his 16 career TDs have covered 40-plus yards).
Norwood, most known for being the team's primary punt returner, quietly accounted for 40 receptions and 487 yards in 2012, his first in the regular rotation. The slippery-smooth receiver is known for making the first defender miss, and is a coach's son (father Brian is BU associate head coach) and local product from nearby Midway High School (who originally signed with Penn State).
Fuller is an older (will be 26 during 2013 season), mature former walk-on with blazing speed (recorded team-best 4.34 40 in spring 2013). The former minor league baseball player only made three catches as a sophomore for BU's talented 2012 corps, but impressed coaches with his play during the spring. Hawthorne is a talented receiver who earned praise from coaches for his play during spring 2013 drills.
Goodley is an extremely strong and powerful bruiser with deceptive speed. He caught 17 passes for 171 yards and two TDs in 2012 and is a multi-purpose player who can line up in the backfield as well as return kicks.
"I think Antwan will have a monster year," Briles said. "He could easily go for 800 (receiving yards) and 400 (rushing).
Lee is a tall (6-foot-3) receiver with plenty of potential. He did not make a reception during his redshirt freshman season in 2012, but played very few snaps backing up starter Sampson. Robbie Rhodes is an extremely talented newcomer and prep All-American from Fort Worth. Redshirt freshman Kaleb Moore suffered a season-ending knee injury during fall camp.
Najvar, a two-time All-Big 12 honoree and Mackey Award candidate, has totaled 25 receptions for 226 yards and four TDs the last two seasons. The former Stanford transfer is very physical and plays with a passion.
"Jordan is one of the main cogs to what we do," Montgomery said. "You can't put a value on him for us. We ask him to do so many things."
Monk is returning from a pectoral injury in 2012 and was granted a hardship waiver and fifth season of eligibility. The versatile veteran boasts a team-high 40 career games played and has scored career TDs via passing, rushing and receiving.
Newcomer Penning transferred from Riverside City College. He had 31 receptions for 425 yards and three TDs as freshman in 2012.
Critics during Baylor's upswing over the past three years have all pointed to the defensive side of the ball, and despite marked improvement over the final six games of 2012, outsiders may continue to question the Bears' ability to stop powerful Big 12 offenses.
Baylor's defense was a big part of the Bears winning five of their final six games in 2012. Over the final five regular-season games, the Bears' D averaged 2.6 takeaways per contest. In its final game, a dominating 49-26 Holiday Bowl win over No. 17 UCLA, Baylor allowed just 33 yards on 28 rushing attempts and held the Bruins' offense to 1-of-17 on third-down conversions.
If the end of the second year of defensive coordinator Phil Bennett's tenure is any indication, his veteran-laden 2013 D is poised to prove its doubters wrong.
"Defensively, we're night and day ahead of where we were in 2012," Briles said. "What we've got to do better is be better on third down and first down, and get the offense into more predictable situations."
At Bennett's disposal this season is an experienced defense, which returns its top four, and eight of its top 10, tacklers from 2012, including three of the Big 12's top five returning tacklers. The unit will be led by lineman Chris McAllister, linebackers Bryce Hager and Eddie Lackey and safety Ahmad Dixon.
Bennett expects continuation of the success his veteran defense demonstrated to finish 2012. He looks for his unit to start 2013 with confidence. "We're improved all over," Bennett said, "much improved. I like our foundation; we have so many third-year starters."
Among the seven returning starters are five who are at least third-year starters: Terrance Lloyd (fourth-year, 30 career starts), Dixon (third-year, 26 starts), Sam Holl (third-year, 23 starts), Joe Williams (third-year, 19 starts) and KJ Morton (third-year, 17 starts).
The DEFENSIVE LINE returns starters on the edges and young-but-seasoned athletes inside. Bennett is pleased with the increased talent and depth up front.
The outside will be manned by fourth-year starter Lloyd and second-year starter McAllister. The steady, quiet, veteran Lloyd is a 2012 All-Big 12 honoree with 7.5 sacks in 32 career games.
McAllister is a former linebacker who was named the 2012 Holiday Bowl Defensive MVP. Quick and athletic, he led Baylor with six sacks last season and has played 39 career games.
Depth is evident on the edges, as also vying for time at ends are sophomores Shawn Oakman and Jamal Palmer. Oakman is a physical specimen (6-foot-9, 270) who sat out 2012 after transferring from Penn State. He was a top 200 national recruit in 2011. Palmer played in eight games as a true freshman in 2012 and totaled four tackles in a reserve role.
A plethora of youngsters occupy the middle of the line, with three sophomores and a freshman occupying the preseason depth chart. Penciled in at starters are Beau Blackshear and Trevor Clemons-Valdez.
Blackshear is third-year player slated to start at nose tackle. The local from Hewitt, Texas, totaled 15 tackles in a reserve role and on special teams last season.
Clemons-Valdez started four games at nose tackle last year and made six tackles in 11 games played.
Reserves include DT Suleiman Masumbuko, a third-year player who played 13 games (primarily on special teams) in 2012, true freshman NT Andrew Billings, a local from Waco High School who set the state high school powerlifting record with 2,010 pounds as a senior in 2013. Junior college transfer Terell Brooks of Navarro College is also an option inside.
The LINEBACKING CORPS returns three veteran starters and several promising freshmen reserves.
"Our starting unit is really good. It all starts with Hager and Lackey," Bennett said of his starting MLB and WLB, "and we expect more consistent play from them."
Hager is a returning All-Big 12 honoree in his second year as the defense's quarterback and quiet leader. The junior led the Big 12 Conference with 9.5 tackles-per-game in 2012. He totaled four sacks and eight hurries in addition to 124 tackles.
Lackey, who coaches term a "playmaker," is a senior All-Big 12 player and former junior college transfer in his second season as starting WLB. He led Baylor in 2012 with four interceptions and two TD returns.
A position swap among senior multi-year starters in the spring placed veteran Holl at No. 1 in the hybrid "Bear" position. A starter the last two years at safety, the hard-hitting Holl, a 2011 All-Big 12 honoree, will move up to nickel-back. He brings 200 career tackles and a team-best six career interceptions to his new position.
The most experienced unit on the 2013 defense will be the SECONDARY, where senior Jim Thorpe Award candidate Dixon, who moved back to his original position of safety in the switch with Holl, headlines three, third-year starters.
Dixon is a two-time All-Big 12 honoree who provides a presence on defense, as well as vocal leadership. He has a team-high 207 career tackles and has started a team-best 26 straight games. Dixon, a former prep All-American, totaled 102 tackles and two interceptions in 2012.
Penciled in to start at cover safety is a tough, smart, second-year sophomore Terrell Burt, who coaches singled out for having a "great spring." Burt made five tackles in 13 games as a true freshman in 2012, predominantly on special teams.
Safety reserves include sophomore Anthony Webb, who saw action on special teams in six games last year as a redshirt freshman, true freshman Taion Sells, a Texas Top 100 recruit from Irving MacArthur, and redshirt freshman Orion Stewart, a local from nearby Midway High School.
Three seniors with starting experience will man the corners, led by third-year starter and playmaker Williams. The 2012 All-Big 12 honoree boasts two career game-clinching overtime pass breakups, and was named the national player of the week (AT&T) after totaling 11 tackles and two interceptions in Baylor's upset of No. 1 Kansas State last season.
Vying to start opposite Williams are veterans Morton (17 career starts) and Demetri "Meech" Goodson (three career starts).
Morton is a two-year starter and former All-Big 12 honoree (2011) whose 2012 season was cut short due to injury (started six of first seven games). The former junior college transfer has five career interceptions.
Goodson has suffered season-ending injuries in each of his two seasons at Baylor since transferring from Gonzaga (where he started two seasons on its nationally ranked hoops squad). He started the first three games of 2012 before an arm injury in the fourth game ended his season. A hardship waiver granted Goodson an additional season of eligibility.
"Our experience level in the secondary is really good," Briles said. "We've got three or four really good corners that have played a bunch. And our safety-Bear combos Ahmad and Sam are three-year starters."
Jones is a senior, two-time All-Big 12 honoree and a Lou Groza Award candidate. He owns or shares 16 school records including being the leading scorer in Baylor history (all positions). A former walk-on affectionately known as "Stork," Jones carries a streak of 107 consecutive made PATs into 2013.
Roth is a big and strong-legged, third-year starting punter. He averaged 43.8 yards in 2012 and put 13 of 36 punts inside the 20-yard-line.
Punt return duties will likely remain with junior Norwood, who ranked fourth in the Big 12 with a 10.4 punt return average in 2012. Likely candidates to return kicks are Darius Jones, Clay Fuller and Corey Coleman.
Holding duties will be handled by veteran Brody Trahan (a senior with three years of experience at the position). Fifth-year senior Zack Northern (36 career games) will serve as the long snapper.